TOP O' THE MORN: Island's Garry oaks need space to thrive

Garry oaks are nice to know,

They choose the choicest sites to grow;

They sometimes name the cities fair,

And drop their acorns everywhere!

A hint to builders,

‘fore you buy,

Count the oak trees reaching high,

And lest your building bubble burst,

Remember, Garry oak trees grew here first!

Should an Islanders counterattack and tour California, we might suggest an area in Los Angeles County.

In 1962, the area had a program to obtain oak trees from all the towns in the U.S. with “oak” in their names. Trees were to be planted in a special park with plaques designating their origin. Among there was a 10-year-old native Garry oak from Oak Harbor.

In 1952, two 6-year-olds, Craig Smith and Douglas Neil, planted acorns on the property of Doug’s grandmother, Mrs. Burrier. The trees grew and 10 years later Gus Neuman, a local nurseryman, dug the trees, including their taproots which seemed to extend to China, and shipped them to California. The 10-year-old trees were about 30 inches high. All these years later, they should be quite a bit bigger.

Today, Oak Harbor’s Garry oaks stand thickly in the southeast area of town. In the middle of SE Eighth Avenue, stands a Garry oak, surrounded by asphalt and exhaust fumes. We have a special affinity for this ytree, for it was some years ago we learned that an ambitious street improvement program included the removal of this venerable tree. We called our friend the city supervisor who said that yes, the tree would come down the next morning, God willin’ and the creek don’t rise. We informed him that God was not willin’ and neither were we.

There was a painful scene. The city supervisor had his choice: he could leave the oak in the middle of the street, a lovely testimony to the thousands of trees that had been here when settlers first came to Oak Harbor, or he could saw through our form, firmly lashed to the tree’s trunk. We had added that we were oiling up our old double-barreled shotgun, Dan’l Boone, in case the tree protection didn’t take.

It was a meaningful confrontation. The next morning, no crew showed to take down the tree.

The Garry oak breathed a sigh of “re-leaf” at its reprieve and today it stands tall and graceful while traffic flows around it.

Dorothy Neil has beem writing and recording local history for more than 50 years. Her books chronicle local life and times.

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